A worldly faith?
Sometimes we imagine that our faith is about becoming more religious. However the French priest and palaeontologist Teilhard de Chardin said, ‘We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.’ A palaeontologist is someone who studies fossils, and like any scientist is an observer of things in a search to discover more about them. I think what he meant was since we are created in the image and likeness of God, as we grow as humans we grow more and more into God.
He also said, ‘by virtue of Creation, and still more the Incarnation, nothing here below is profane for those who know how to see.’ Our humanity in all its shapes and sizes is God’s way of fleshing out and manifesting His beauty. ‘Nothing is profane for those who know how to see’: Heaven isn’t very far away, and faith isn’t about religious stuff. Indeed common humanity is the home of God: this is what Christmas is all about, when God in Jesus made his home amongst us.
So we should tread the earth lightly: We are already walking on holy ground. Perhaps that is why Jesus gives us such an earthly prayer as the Lord’s Prayer: we pray that God’s kingdom will come here on earth as in heaven; we ask God to give us our daily bread, just enough for today. In the Gospels Jesus shows us God by the way he looks, listens, speaks and touches. Galilee sees signs of heaven in everyday life.
This is why the heart and high point of Christian worship is the Eucharist, when we take the raw material of the world, bread and wine, and it is transfigured by God’s Holy Spirit and shows us God. The Orthodox Church speaks of the ‘sacrament of the world’. The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins writes that ‘the world is charged with the grandeur of God.’ And this month we celebrate the feast of Pentecost: we celebrate when the Church is born, very much here on earth, to live the life of Jesus, very much here on earth.
Pentecost is the moment when the penny drops for the apostles and they begin to see clearly what Christmas, Good Friday and Easter Day mean. Pentecost completes the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus as the birthday of incarnate Christianity. Far from taking us out of this world, the Spirit, which brooded over creation from the very beginning, empowers us to see everything in a new light: the whole world is charged with the grandeur of God.
So let’s not become too religious: our faith is world-facing and life-affirming. St Paul even makes the great claim that our bodies are ‘temples of the Holy Spirit’: this is who we really are, spiritual beings having a human experience. The Church is being truly faithful when we live out Jesus’ message to love God, neighbour and self, seeking to encounter him not just in worship but in the faces and concerns of the people we meet day by day. No wonder the liturgy ends with the words ‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.’ Go where He may be found!
The Venerable Robert Jones
Archdeacon of Worcester